Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

New Who 6.9: Night Terrors

Well, that was a great deal better than last week's episode as far as I'm concerned. Everything that Fear Her wanted to be and failed miserably at, and easily Mark Gatiss' best episode since The Unquiet Dead. Clearly a low-budget number, too, with just a few fairly cheap sets and costumes, and no great need for big set-pieces or special effects. That certainly isn't a guaranteed recipe for success (see previous reference to Fear Her), but when you do have a good script, a simple setting can help to focus the attention on it very nicely.

The main story was small and unpretentious in scale, which came as a great relief after the rather garbled complexity of last week's episode. Plenty of time to bring out and explore the theme of family tensions and resolutions, while also allowing room for some clever touches and good old-fashioned silliness along the way. In this sort of context, we can enjoy chewing over ideas like the nursery stories which the Doctor recalls from his childhood - just the same as ours except with Sontarans and Emperor Daleks, and thus creating a sense of a whole wide universe tied together by a set of essentially identical myths.

I was particularly taken (as I usually am) by the various meta-references scattered through the story. I read some of them as fairly straightforward nods towards the filmic nature of the story which we were watching - like Amy and Rory finding themselves trapped in an environment full of fake wooden saucepans and painted clock-faces (much like a film-set), or Purcell the nasty landlord flicking past thirty-year-old TV shows in his flat (though Bergerac is quite the spring chicken next to Doctor Who). But I thought a few became more specific, too. The flats where George and his family lived struck me from the opening scene as being very Powell Estate, and a comment from Rory to Amy later on about how the Doctor was "back there in EastEnders land" felt very much to me like a direct comment on the sort of world Russell T. Davies tried to create, and which has now become a thing of pastiche and nostalgia in the Moffatverse, rather than symbolic of real life as it once was. This was perhaps reinforced by the references to inversion in the arrival scene, which began with a shot of the TARDIS itself reflected upside-down in a puddle, and continued with dialogue between the Doctor and Rory about how Rory meant the opposite of what he was actually saying. That too would work as a comment on how radically Doctor Who has now changed since the RTD era - but then again it also works in relation to the not-quite-right family at the centre of the story, whose history has been changed by a child who isn't what he seems.

Speaking of history, this is actually Gatiss' first non-historical story for Doctor Who, although the sense of the past was very strong throughout - in the retro look of the family's flat, for example, or Rory's reading of the interior of the dolls' house as "1700 or something". But perhaps the historical dimension this time comes in the form of the nostalgic trip backwards to the early days of New Who? More recent references were in play too, though. Certainly, the eye in the drawer in the dolls' house kitchen reminded me very strongly of the Atraxi (or 'an Atraxus'?) from The Eleventh Hour. Are we to understand that they had been trying to track down George / the Tesla (spelling is a guess, there) at some point? It's also the second story in a row to feature characters becoming miniaturised and ending up inside an object smaller than themselves. Here, though, the Victoriana of the dolls' house gave it a much more Alice in Wonderland vibe than the hi-tech of the Teselecta, which seemed more in the vein of Fantastic Voyage (and therefore also The Invisible Enemy).

If this episode had been a true stand-alone, I'd have been entirely happy with it - simple, effective, and nicely put together. But once again we were carefully reminded of the wider plot-arc by a view of the TARDIS screen displaying the Doctor's date of death (which is now getting rather like the time-crack from the previous season). If that had to appear, then I could have done with a little more sense of emotional connection with previous episodes to go along with it. Are Amy and Rory really, as they appear, now perfectly happy to know that their baby will grow up to become River Song, and not at all concerned that they have missed her first few years, during which time she was held prisoner and brainwashed by the Silence? Doesn't the experience of seeing George with his father remind them of what they have missed? All of this is rather a good example of the problem with trying to squeeze a traditionally episodic show like Doctor Who into the mould of US-style long-running story arcs. The two formats can work together, but it needs careful work - and I still don't think Moffat has quite nailed it.

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Tags: cult tv, doctor who, eleven, reviews

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